If someone stopped you on the street and asked you to name five traits describing the typical writer, what would you say? If you’re a writer, you might know this is a trick question.
Most would say writers are solitary people. To some degree it’s true, but the image of a writer holed up in an isolated cottage with quill and paper is only a partial profile in today’s world. Unlike their predecessors, modern writers, like all modern artists, have to be very visible. If they are introverts by nature, they have to be extroverts in cyberspace. Modern writers who want to make a living at their craft have to be globally engaged with social media, and this isn’t an option. They have to be comfortable with self-promotion, and this is another reality that might be unpalatable to most writers. I will openly confess that when I started writing in response to creative compulsion and passion for the art, I never imagined people would care about my life or my motivation. It was always about the story. Luckily, I have one of those flexible personalities—I’m very outgoing by nature, but I’m also very happy doing my own thing. This fits the new profile.
I think it’s safe to assume most writers are creative people. Again, this is true, but now they have to be creative in ways that have nothing to do with their art. The time spent in the actual creative process (the raison d’être for any artist) is a small fraction of the time spent on the project as a whole. The true test of a serious writer is what follows: the lengthy editing process (which may feel like you’re cutting off your own left arm), the production details, and the marketing. Everyone knows the writer gets to visit other worlds in the creative process. Well, the marketing process isn’t just another world; it’s a whole new dimension. Writers today don’t necessarily need a degree in literature or journalism, but it’s helpful to have a degree in marketing and communications.
Modern writers, like all writers throughout the ages, must be disciplined in a lot of ways. Some might perceive all artists to be the “free spirits” who follow their heart and work when the mood strikes them. For good writers, as for any artist who wants to produce a masterpiece, the opposite is true. Good writers still need a command of the language. We still have to spend hours doing research. We still have to draft and redraft until we can’t stand our own words (which makes it easier to comply with the suggested changes of an editor). It worries me when I see the lack of quality control that has emerged in the publishing world, especially with so much self-published material being marketed on the internet. It seems anything sells with the right marketing. My book, “The Healing,” was self-published, but I made sure it went through the wringer. Raw talent is not so special. Raw talent fueled by discipline and hard work is the formula for a masterpiece.
I think most people would agree writers are good jugglers. Real life often intrudes on the writer’s created world, and vice versa. A lot of balls are circling in the air at all times. This is especially true of writers who face deadlines. Stable bridges have to be built between the real world and the writer’s “other world,” and sometimes we cross that bridge a hundred times a day. While juggling. As a writer of fiction, it’s my own personal experience that family and friends have no idea how real that “other world” becomes to a writer, and I realized at a very young age that I couldn’t expect them to understand. There’s something very schizophrenic about my involvement in an imagined world. It’s like my own warped God complex.
Finally, true writers have always been identified by their love of words. We are “words people.” And it isn’t just the written word that gives us pleasure. It’s the witticisms, the crossword puzzles, the word games, the puns…language is our ball park. Using all seven letters on a Scrabble board is like hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth. But the modern writer has to be a numbers person, too. How many read your blog? How many followers on Twitter? How many likes on your Facebook page? The modern writer has to be techno-savvy and cyber-connected in a realm that reaches far beyond words. The modern writer can even come to like that new realm.
Solitary, creative, disciplined, juggling people who are in love with words. Those are the five traits I think people perceive in the true writer. I’m hesitant to invite feedback on this one, but does anyone want to give me a reality check? Words like delusional are now coming to mind…